Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy and chief executive Dave Donaghy are among those taking big pay cuts to help keep the club afloat during the NRL shutdown.
The NRL season reached its climax in geographically diverse fashion, with the Melbourne Storm facing off against the North Queensland Cowboys in the middle of Sydney.
More 2017 NRL Grand Final
» Perfect Storm were always going to be premiers
» Match report: Storm slam Cowboys
» Five talking points from the match
» North Queensland Cowboys player ratings
» Melbourne Storm player ratings
» Watch video highlights from the match
The powers that be toyed briefly with the idea of appointing a Western Australian referee and relocating the Bunker to Adelaide for the night but eventually decided ‘meh, can we really be bothered?’
‘Meh, can we really be bothered?’ is, of course, the official battle cry of the NRL expansion program.
Here are the ratings for the NRL grand final.
Prior to the game, there was plenty of talk about Macklemore performing his smash hit song Same Love, in support of same sex marriage. ‘Should the NRL be involved in such a political debate?’ was the question being asked. ‘And if so, should it be in the form of tedious rap?’ was perhaps the better one.
Frankly, I’d much rather have seen Ian Roberts helicopter into the middle of the ground, and then challenge whoever was interested in discussing the topic to a debate via his preferred medium of arm wrestling.
The politicising of rugby league didn’t end with Macklemore, however. Almost as soon as he was done, Ricki-Lee Coulter came out to sing her song, a ditty that was a little bit too pro-girt by sea for my tastes.
Eventually, however, the game began, with all eyes on the Melbourne Storm’s great trio of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Dally M Referee of the Year Cameron Smith, who were playing together for the last time.
Prior to the game, Phil ‘Guff’ Gould talked lovingly about how Cronk was a ‘manufactured halfback’. I remember when my dad first taught me how to manufacture a halfback. Took me hours and I got glue everywhere. But it was worth it just to have my own personal Noel Goldthorpe.
The big three for Melbourne get all the hype, but my favourite Storm player remains Cameron Munster. And, yes, it’s just for the name. Munster always makes me wish more players were named after old TV shows. Who wouldn’t want to see Jarrod Bewitched, Mario Bonanza or Willy Beverly-Hillbillies running around next season?
First half tries
While all eyes were on the Melbourne big three and the desire for them to have funnier names, Shaun Fensom went down with a broken leg in just the fourth minute of the game. ‘Ah, no fun. Mess.’ was the anagrammatic consensus about the injury.
It was a horror start for the Cowboys, and it got worse when Josh Addo-Carr ran the length of the field (or the length of three-quarters of a field if you want to get all pedantic about it) to score the opening try.
The lightning Addo-Carr was too fast for his chasers, some of whom instead settled for tackling a referee instead. A fair call – in addition to being much slower, they’re also less likely to expect it, making it much easier to bring them down.
But when a large gap in the defensive line for the Storm’s second try didn’t see a single match official taken out, things looked even more dire for the North Queensland side.
And it somehow got even worse for them when Billy Slater scored the third converted try for the half.
Confession: I’ve never enjoyed a Billy Slater try. Which is a shame because there’s been, like, millions of the ruddy things.
Down 18-0 coming into the second half, the Cowboys knew they had to be the next to score if they wanted to stay in the game. Actually, that’s not strictly true. Regardless of whether they scored next, they’d be staying in the game until the fulltime siren. That’s just how the sport works. You can’t just get up and leave when things get a bit tough, despite what the Newcastle Knights will try to tell you.
But the Cowboys did, indeed, score next, with Te Maire Martin stumbling over for the try after a Michael Morgan pass. Sloppy stuff from the Storm, who were only able to give away two time-wasting penalties with the Cowboys pressing their line. Needed at least seven or eight more to really drain the opposition enthusiasm.
However, 18-6 was as close as North Queensland would get. The prospect of a fightback was halted there. And the prospect of a fight didn’t get much further when a bit of push and shove abated harmlessly.
It’s a strange old world when a drunken England cricketer can bring about a more dramatic bout of fisticuffs than a pair of rugby league teams.
Cameron Smith’s genius
The score stayed 18-6 just long enough for Cowboys fans to think their team might have had a chance of sneaking back into the game. But Cameron Smith, in a display of the rugby league genius that has had commentators and fans salivating for so many years, came up with the mastermind notion of passing the ball from dummy half to a very large man running very fast just a very short distance from the try line.
Would any other player in the modern game have thought of that?
Smith’s next so-crazy-it-just-might-work scheme? To have his team add another dozen unanswered points to run out winners 34-6.